Friday, October 10, 2008

To Infinity ...

Today I was approached by two students who were conducting a survey on the "spiritual state" of the campus. The first two questions were ridiculously hard to answer: 1) Describe your life in three words and 2) What's most important thing you want to do before you die? I garbled some BS for both of those, and then she asked what I think happens after we die.

I replied, "I don't know." And that's all I could say, because I don't think I can know.

I grew up Catholic. I went to Catholic school until I was 12, got Confirmed at 16 like everyone else did. Through my teens I was never what you'd call a particularly devout Catholic, especially when it came to issues like homosexuality and birth control. Once, during a discussion about gay marriage, a Sunday school instructor turned to me and said, "Lisa, what's your opinion on this?" Thanks. Put the heathen on the spot. Still, I tried to hang on for a long time. You can't change something by running away from it, I reasoned. I even said that to my sister when she started college and started referring to Catholicism as "all that dogma."

Then I went to college myself. I quit going to Mass. While I was doing research for a tutorial paper, I came across an article about "condom bonfires" held by bishops and priests in Africa. You know, where AIDS is dragging life expectancy lower and lower. I was so angry that I literally got hot. I sent a long email to my mother, telling her I wasn't sure I could be Catholic any more.

Over the next few years, I began to identify more and more with agnosticism. I had long conversations with Jim about science and reality and religion, and partly through those I realized there's no way I can prove or disprove the existence of God. All I can truly know is here, now. I thought: I can spend my life hedging my bets and wondering, or I can do the best work - the least harm and most good I can - to other people. Frustrating and inexplicable as we may be, people fascinate me. I want to talk to people, to know about their lives, to listen to their problems and offer what help I can.

I didn't want to give up my religion. For some, faith offers a solace so deep that I envy it. But I came to realize that I believe and do things that the Catholic church doesn't tolerate. I'm not sorry for my opinions or my actions; this means I'm in a state of sin. Out of respect for the faith, I no longer take communion when I go to services with my family. I still go, because it means a lot to my mother. She still hopes I'll find my way back, but I think she understands.

So, my Christian questioners, I don't know what happens when I kick the bucket. I don't make decisions with my immortal soul in mind. And if you're right, there is a God, then I'm SOL. But I'll let you think about that.

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